Environmental experts have known that many chemicals used in agriculture today are harmful to adults, not to mention even greater potential harm for growing babies during pregnancy. Unfortunately studies on the short and long-term effects of pesticides on pregnancy and later in childhood are scant.

If you are expecting a baby, what do you need to know about the effect of pesticides on your baby and how to reduce your exposure?

Effects of Pesticides on Pregnancy and Baby's Health

A 2017 study in North Carolina found that wives of farmers who were mixing or applying pesticides or repairing equipment during their pregnancies had a greater than two fold increase in developing gestational diabetes during their pregnancy.

Other research shows that even indirect exposure from pesticides can be harmful to growing babies. One UNC study showed that mothers who lived within a one mile radius of an agricultural area that utilized certain pesticides had twice the risk of having a stillbirth. Another study showed a 70% increase in congenital defects if the mother lived within 1/4 mile of an agricultural area during the month before conception through the first trimester.

Effects of Pesticides on Child's Development

A ground-breaking study in the 2019 issue of Epidemiology also looked at women who were exposed to pesticides during their pregnancies. The women participating in the study all worked in the cut flower industry so they had exposure to pesticides in their workplace every day. The study was conducted in Equador on about 120 children from 3-23 months of age. When the children whose mothers were exposed to pesticides during pregnancy were compared to children who mothers were not exposed, there were marked differences in their learning abilities development.

The children whose mothers worked in the cut flower industry during their pregnancies scored lower in communication skills, fine motor skills and had poorer visual acuity. Researchers concluded that the exposure to pesticides, long hours and job stress were likely factors in the delayed neurobehavioral development of the children.

Pesticides Found in Produce

Pesticides and other pollutants can be found both on the outside and the inside of many traditional (non-organic) fruits and vegetables today. Even though consumers, especially pregnant women, are advised to wash produce before eating, the process of washing cannot remove the pesticides that have penetrated the food. It is obvious that if the mother is eating fruits and vegetables that contain pesticides, the baby is also exposed to those same pesticides. However, to date, there are few if any studies on the effects of pesticides on the baby from the mother's consumption of non-organic fruits and vegetables.

Reducing Exposure to Pesticides and Insecticides

The greatest harm to a growing baby will be during the first trimester of pregnancy, specifically the first 8 weeks. This period of time is when the baby's major organs are developing. Pregnant women should avoid any exposure to pesticides during this time. Some of these harmful pesticides and insecticides can be found in common products used both inside and outside the home as well as on household pets. Expectant mothers should avoid any exposure to these products during pregnancy.

One reason why women should be eating as much organic foods during pregnancy as possible is to reduce their exposure to pesticides. Traditional, non-organic fruits and vegetables can contain high amounts of pesticides. An environmental consumer organization has suggested that the following fruits and vegetables should be purchased in the organic variety since the traditional variety is likely to contain higher amounts of pesticides:

  • Apples
  • Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Cherries
  • Imported Grapes
  • Nectarines
  • Pears
  • Potatoes
  • Peaches
  • Red Rasberries
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries

Are you concerned about the amount of pesticides you may be exposed to? Leave a comment here. For more information on pesticides and avoiding additional chemicals in dairy and meat products, see organic foods during pregnancy,

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